A Bundle of Laughs?

To a first approximation, this will not be funny at all to any of you:

gerbes at aspen

I giggled at it, I will confess. I can never get enough insertions of gerbes into a sentence. There’s just something about the total abstractness of the mathematical object placed in the wrong context… oh never mind. A gerbe? Well, I’ll point you to a Wikipedia entry for this mathematical object, which starts:

In mathematics, a gerbe is a construct in homological algebra and topology. Gerbes were introduced by and Jean Giraud (Giraud 1971) following ideas of Alexandre Grothendieck as a tool for non-commutative cohomology in degree 2. They can be seen as a generalization of principal bundles to the setting of 2-categories. Gerbes provide a convenient, if highly abstract, language for dealing with many types of deformation questions especially in modern algebraic geometry. In addition, special cases of gerbes have been used more recently in differential topology and differential geometry to give alternative descriptions to certain cohomology classes and additional structures attached to them.

…and then, rather unkindly, leave you on your own. Sorry. It is enough to know that it’s a bit obscure (relatively). So popping it into everyone’s favourite bit of profundity from Bladerunner is silliness taken to a funny level. There. I’ve over explained it. Anyway, you see this sort of thing from time to time at places like this (remember last year’s find?) and I thought you’d like a look if you’ve never visited such a place yourself.

Interestingly, someone left this scribble on one of the boards here in the corridor at the Physics Center, and people have been just writing around it during their conversations about other things, opting to preserve it for some reason. Perhaps they’re just waiting to me to notice it and put it in a blog post. Maybe it was put there for precisely that purpose… Hmmm.


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19 Responses to A Bundle of Laughs?

  1. Clifford, you really need to get out more.

  2. Blake Stacey says:

    You giggled? I laughed out loud!

    (I’ve. . . seen things you people wouldn’t believe: D-branes on fire off the shoulder of Ed Witten. I’ve watched axions glitter in the dark near the Fermilab front door. . . .)

    The line is actually, “All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain.” Just, you know, FYI. (The clip is, not at all surprisingly, available on YouTube.)

  3. Aaron Bergman says:

    I got the line wrong? Well, I like mine better….

    The backstory to the line is that a number of people, myself included, spent the first two weeks of the workshop filling that board with puns on the word gerbe (gerbosity, gerbalesque, gerbal, gerbiferous, gerbification, etc.). They got erased over the weekend, and I thought it appropriate to memorialize them.

  4. Bee says:

    I’ve repeatedly encountered ‘lettuce spacing’ on blackboards (not here), never found out whose joke it was.

  5. Clifford says:

    Bee:- Yes, I always think of agriculture in those cases. Can’t have the lettuces too close to each other, you see. Need a minimum distance.

    Aaron:- Aha! I see. I should have guessed you were involved somehow. It’s a good choice of line with which to comment on an abundance of gerbe-derived terms on the board. I guess another one could have been: “My God, it’s full of gerbes”.



  6. The Ridger says:

    Too bad they attributed it to Rutger Hauer … I hate it when actors get credit for what their characters say. Roy Batty, people! Roy Batty! (… screenwriters *never* get the credit…….)

  7. Kea says:

    Heh, I thought it was funny at first sight! But probably not for the usual reasons – I think gerbes are a too-applied means of looking at (categorical) non-Abelian cohomology.

  8. stevenm says:

    Actually, Rutger Hauer did write those lines and not the screen writers. He went to director Ridley Scott’s trailer on the set one night with it written on some paper saying “I’ve got these words…”, and so he decided to include it in the scene when he came to shoot it. There was a documentary a few years back on the making of the film to mark its 20th aniversary, and it mentions this. Speaking of movies, don’t forget the classic westerns “A Fistful of Gerbes” and “A Few Gerbes More”. Also, it is true that Jimmy Cagney never actually said “you dirty gerbe”.

  9. annette Dartiere says:

    Physics is a reductionist science. The string is hypothesized to be the smallest particle of which everything is made. The goal of reductionist physics is to find a few simple principles that underlie complex phenomena. The string theorists invent astonishing physical and mathematical complexity as the end point of reductionism. Well, quite obviously, the end point of reductionism is a theory as Einstein stated that we can teach to the kids and quite obviously not a theory that nobody can understand. When the end point of reductionism is the greatest complexity imaginable it is just plain absurd.

    In 2000 an independent scientist working alone sent a copy of his book, The N-particle Model, to all the physics graduate students at Berkeley. Now he’s back and on the Reference Frame. He claims the universe is made of a single elementary particle that he now names the Ö particle and that particle is neither created nor destroyed. He claims its energy is 2.68138×10^-54 J. He claims the small size of the Ö particle is the reason electric, magnetic, photon and gravity fields appear continuous.

    There is the question about lemmings when they get to the edge of the cliff. Do they choose to jump off or are they responding only to herd instinct or maybe aerodynamically drafted. It looks to me like the theorists are right on the edge.

  10. Elliot says:


    The theory can’t be correct…. No gerbes…


  11. Aaron F. says:

    “My G-d, it’s full of gerbes.”

    For some reason, that sentence caused me to shriek momentarily with laughter, probably frightening my neighbors. 🙂

  12. Elliot says:

    when Clifford posts pictures of herbs
    and bikes that are parked by the curb
    it may be illusion
    just quantum confusion

    (hey I can’t be the only haiku/limerick guy around ;))


  13. Elliot says:

    shoot the last line of the limerick above was meant to be left to the reader as an exercise. My fault for using the brackets and making it disappear.


  14. Clifford says:

    “… but it all seems to come back to gerbes.” (?)


  15. Elliot says:

    Yes !!


  16. astromcnaught says:

    First we had particles named flerbs
    and now we have thingos called gerbes.
    I’ve missed my vocation
    caused by my location
    of living in the distant suburbs

    oh well, it rhymes…

  17. Elliot says:

    sorry. I just had to send this link. I won’t be offended if it’s removed.



  18. astromcnaught says:

    Do you think then Elliot that your gerbe underwear has a correspondence with g-string theory?

    (sorry too:)

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